On-screen distractions can cause learners to lose focus and cause usability errors. Here’s how Focus Mode helps.

Every teacher knows how hard it can be to hold the attention of students in a classroom. Absorbing new information is mentally taxing, which means that it can be difficult for learners to maintain their attention, even if the content is interesting to them. Classroom teachers, instructors, and professors have various techniques at their disposal to reengage a class when they sense they are losing their audience, but online education offers no such feedback.

While educators create course content envisioning learners who will studiously and seamlessly flow from one lesson to the next, the reality is very different. Online learners are beset by far more distractions than what is typical in a course. Not only are they learning at home, where families and personal interests are also vying for their attention, but the entire rest of the internet is just a browser tab away. The more cluttered your own course design is, the more opportunities they have to become distracted.

And as we all know, distractions snowball until the entire block of time they had set aside for learning has evaporated.

For many learners, this experience is exhausting and demoralizing. It can slow down their progress through the course, make it more difficult to remember what they’ve learned, and eventually cause them to quit the course.

On-screen distractions impede learners in the following ways:

  • They subconsciously add to the memory burden as learners work overtime to ignore periphery inputs.
  • They tempt learners to navigate away from the key learning area.
  • They create confusion for learners about where to go next and what area of the lesson to pay attention to.
  • They break concentration, leaving learners with an opening to leave the course entirely.

Fortunately, LearnDash 3.0 comes with a new feature that is unique among industry LMSs: Focus Mode. Instructors can apply this setting from the back end of a course so that on certain pages or in certain lessons, unnecessary side bars and navigation become hidden, so that learners can concentrate on learning. Here’s just a few of the features we implemented, and why we believe they’re going to be a big help to your learners.

1. Main navigation, sidebars, and footers are all removed from the screen.

Generally speaking, removing navigation is a dangerous move for usability purposes. You never want your users to feel lost, and that’s exactly what navigation is supposed to prevent. But navigation menus, sidebars, and footers are also the primary culprits when it comes to cluttered and overly distracting layouts.

By clearing this navigation away, we’re creating a dedicated study space for the learners where we want them to remain until they complete the lesson. The purpose of Focus Mode is to help learners stay in place, not to offer them easy exit points.

2. Course navigation remains in place, but can be collapsed.

That said, we don’t want Focus Mode to be so minimalist that it fails to provide learners with necessary navigation. Because of this, we kept the course navigation as the new sidebar, so that learners can easily access move through the lesson and still have access to the materials they need.

If even this is too much of a visual distraction learners can easily collapse the course navigation to the side and expand it again later when they need to move to a different page.

3. Focus Mode menu allows learners to return to main course at any time.

While we removed most of the navigation, we don’t want learners to feel trapped. The goal of Focus Mode isn’t to take away all of a learner’s choices as they use the site, simply to make it a click removed so that they’re not constantly bombarded by choices as they’re trying to learn.

Learners can access the Focus Mode menu by hovering over their profile image. The menu items that appear can be customized, and you can add as many items as you feel will benefit your learners.

4. CTA buttons are paired down to “Complete” and “Next Lesson.”

An abundance of calls-to-action (CTAs) are one of the worst distractions in a normal study mode. The whole purpose of a CTA is to try to convince a learner to take action—usually by clicking a button. They’re designed to be bold, enticing, and attention-grabbing, which is exactly what you don’t want.

Because of this, we’ve reduced the number of on-screen primary CTAs to just two: the buttons for “Complete” and “Next Lesson.” This keeps the learner focused on moving forward through the course rather than leaving the lesson to go make a post in the community forum, or to read a blog, or to watch a video.

5. Progress bar remains in place.

One final thing we kept in place: the progress bar. Far from being a distraction, the progress bar is a subtle motivation to learners, as well as a visual feedback mechanism that helps them know how far they have to go in the course.

Again, this may seem trivial, but if you’ve ever struggled to get through reading an ebook, you may recall how unnerving it was not to know how far you had to go to complete it. The lack of a progress bar can be a distraction for many learners, because it makes them feel lost. Seeing that they’re making progress helps keep them on track.

Keeping your learners focused will help them complete your course, and will raise their satisfaction with their experience.

Removing visual clutter on the screen may seem like a small step, but it has a big impact on how learners feel when they are in your course. A visually clean course space in an online classroom is to a cluttered one what studying in a library is to studying in the food court of the local mall. It puts the learner in the right frame of mind and keeps them there while they work through the course. Learners are not only less distracted, they also are feel less exhausted because they won’t have spent so much energy maintaining their concentration.

If you are curious to learn more about how Focus Mode works, you can find a detailed description of its features and how to set it up on your course in the documentation for LearnDash 3.0. If you aren’t a LearnDash user yet, you can find out about more features by exploring the LearnDash demo.

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